For the Record: Prophecy by The Stakes

stakes prophecy 01by Mark Anderson
Senior Editor

After years, the wait is finally over. The Stakes, Phoenix’s premiere live hiphop band, have released their debut full-length album, Prophecy.

And believe you me, the album was worth the wait. To quote a friend, “this shit is fire right here.”

After years of gigging here in Phoenix and all around the state, The Stakes have formed a solid line-up of “self-made rappers, university-educated performers, cover artists, and lifelong gospel musicians” for a roster that truly does impress.

Marah Armenta (vocals), Lord Kash (emcee), Zeedubb (emcee), Ben Scolaro (piano), Luis Martinez (guitar), Paul McAfee (Moog synthesizer – droppin’ those fat basslines), and Kevin Phillips (drums) form the core group but the addition of Alan Acosta & Tyler Bauer on saxophone and Jimmy Barrios & Danny Torgerson on trumpet add an extra cool dimension to the Stakes smooth sound on Prophecy.

“5 Minutes of Gold” opens the album and I honestly can’t argue with that song title at all. Luis’ guitar is soon joined by Ben’s keys and then the vocals pop in and Kevin’s drums and then >BOOM!< Stendhal syndrome takes full effect.

The hits keep coming with “Then And Now”, Stevie Wonder’s “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” and the title track, “Prophecy”.

With an intro featuring Amber Tabares, “Blue Jean Grey” opens the Stakes into some of their best, experimental arenas yet while “Crosseyed”, their excellent Michael Jackson cover of “I Can’t Help It” and “Requiem” prove the Stakes are the best at what they do.

Closing track, “Unified”, features I-Dee and is a straight head-banger. Make sure to stay tuned for that secret track too…

The Stakes took some time out their day to answer a few questions I had about the new album, their contemporaries, and what’s next for one of the hardest-working bands in town.

Mark Anderson: Prophecy is a couple years in the making right? Did any songs change over the course of making it? Please describe the feeling of being finished with and releasing it to all the long-time Stakes fans!

Ben Scolaro: We are truly grateful to all the Stakes fans who have followed us over the last 4 and a half years. So much has changed as we’ve developed our sound. Not to mention the world around us has influenced our direction.

Take the title track, “Prophecy.” When we first started writing that song 4 years ago, it was inward-looking, about personal triumph. However, with the rise of Trump and White Nationalism, we rewrote some of the lyrics and added samples at the beginning, transforming it into a call to action against the running narrative, or “prophecy”.

Our focus is to constantly improve, so our songs evolve over time.

Paul McAfee: Absolutely. The songs have generally kept the the same structure, but the groove, feel, textures, riffs, etc. change a little bit each time. This is inevitable when every member of the group is so open and creative.

What is the Stakes songwriting process like? Does one of you come up with a main progression and everyone else elaborates? Or maybe you guys just jam and things develop themselves?

Ben: All of the above. Our greatest strength is our diversity as a group — we’ve got the full spectrum from completely self-taught to university-studied musicians, which allows us to approach songwriting from every direction.

Paul: Sometimes we just jam and develop a song as a group. Maybe somebody starts with a 4 or 8 bar groove and everyone joins in and develops their own contribution. Some of the more intricate songs were thoroughly written by a single band member, but sometimes the structure or feel is edited by the group depending on what makes sense for the vocalists and lyrics.

I consider you guys a pretty unique band but maybe I’m wrong in the sense that there may be more out there than I realize. Is there a solid hiphop/jazz/funk scene here in the Valley in your opinion? To me, your only contemporaries here seem to be House of Stairs!

ZeeDubb: I’m not a native of Phoenix but I know that it has a pretty rich history of underground rap bands through the years. I know Drunken Immortals are still going hard. When The Stakes had started, the only other band mixing in jazz was The Brother Cosmos, but they broke up.

Currently there’s The Color 8, Nick Perkins Band, Ramses II, House of Stairs, The Geibral Elisha Movement, Deliyonne & Hudson… trust me, the fusion of hip-hop and other genres with live instrumentation is alive in Phoenix and The Stakes are honored to be in the forefront.

The scene is here, the promoters just have to catch up, or we’ll do it for them.

stakes 01Could you delve into the idea behind the album title some? I’m picturing multiple layers here…

Ben: Since you asked for layers…

Layer 1 — The Idea

It’s easy to fall into the trap of passively watching things happen, like a “prophecy” unfolding. But the future is not written; we all play a part in creating it, whether by acting or failing to act.

Layer 2 — The Image

Our actions today do become a type of prophecy for future generations by creating the world they will inherit. That’s why the album art features children — because their future is at stake in our actions today (that’s Lord Kash’s son on the cover).

Layer 3 — The Action

After the election last November, we found ourselves asking what we can do to help shape the future for the better. That’s why we’re collecting signatures at our shows to stop the expansion of Arizona’s private school vouchers.

This expansion would take money from public education and give it to wealthy people who send their kids to private school (you can read all about it at sosarizona.org). We’re part of a state-wide effort to put a referendum on the ballot so voters can reject this law. We’ve collected more than 70 signatures and will have more petitions at our shows until Aug. 1. If you come through, PLEASE take a moment to sign.

Paul: For me, Prophecy fulfills a top criterion: it sounds cool and mysterious.

Ben: That too.

I love the “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” cover. Is there a story behind that song getting picked to be covered?

ZeeDubb: It’s funny because we were suppose to do a full reggae show but only had time to crank out, maybe 3 reggae tunes, and “Master Blaster” stuck. Marah picked the song cause she loves Stevie with her heart and soul. You can really feel the purpose of the original lyrics when she sings it.

Paul: When we jammed on the groove, Kash dropped a killer verse with a flow that developed beautifully. We often work with a horn section, and I felt inspired to write horn parts for this song in particular.

What’s in store for the Stakes? Do you guys already have new songs in the works? Where would you like to see the band go from here both literally and figuratively?

Paul: We have old and new songs that haven’t been recorded yet, probably enough for an EP. We want to continue to write new songs until we have more than enough to select for for a new LP. We will be working on a music video soon and continue to keep the visibility up and play shows. My personal dream would be to open for the Roots.

ZeeDubb: In 2017 you’re going to see more videos, more loosies and singles, and another EP or album. Collaborations with other bands, musicians and artists are in the works. We have a lot of ideas and plans to execute. Some I wouldn’t share for the sake of the surprise.

Is there any thing else about Prophecy or the Stakes that you would like us to know about that I failed to ask?

Marah: It’s finally out now! Available on iTunes, as well as our website, TheStakesMusic.com, where you can see all of our upcoming shows.

~

For more info on The Stakes, check their Facebook page. Catch them live at A Stoneypie Pool Party with Paper Foxes, Haze that Saxy Rapper, Mr. UU, The Psychedelephants, Hostile Work Environment, the Bittersweet Way, De Leon & the Desert Beats Saturday July 1 at 4 PM.

stakes 03

7 Feel Good Music Videos

Raye Zaragoza
“Fight for You”

Quinn DeVeaux
“Left This Town”

Jordan Prince
“Sophomore Year”

Pace
“Through Your Fingers”

FELTWORTH
“Forget This Feeling”

Shaheed and DJ Supreme
“Glorious Day”

Life of Dillon
“Focus”

Music Video Premiere: “Lonesome” by Dadadoh [premiere + interview]

We’re super stoked to be the first to share this sweet new music video from local hip hop legend Dadadoh. We even got a chance to chat with the man behind the music (and music video) about all the shizz coming from his camp this year.

But, first, we want to give you inside eye on the music video for “Lonesome”. The track itself feels more atmospheric than your usual hip hop jam and that’s part of the reason we dig it. “Lonesome” is where Dadadoh gets into one of his more meditative moods and that musing quality echoes the emotional implications of the track’s title.

Check out the music video and the continue on below to read our Q&A with Dadadoh about the making of “Lonesome”, the fact behind the fiction, and what’s next for PHX’s favorite musical hustler. Oh, btw, make sure you have Radicalhere – the album from whence this track came – in your own personal collection (available ).

YabYum: So, first of all, I’d like to know more about the making of the video. Who directed it? And did you have additional help from any key players to bring the new video to life?

The ideas behind my videos are so specific that I really couldn’t imagine anyone else directing them other than myself. My ideas are never set in stone. They’re really just rough blueprints of what-ifs that I’m always expecting to evolve into something else later down the line.

I’m over performance shots in hip hop videos. I mean how many ways can you shoot a video looking into a camera and mouthing the lyrics. The concept has been beat to death in my opinion so when it came to making my next video I wanted something that was more of a film than a commercial for my song.

Andy Warpigs had just released his video for “Everybody Likes You Now” and I loved the feel of that video. I found out it was shot by this really cool cat named Indy Prince. I reached out to them and tried to explain this crazy idea I had and, fortunately, for me they were totally down to help me make it happen.

It looks like the new music video might be continuing the tale that we first got a glimpse of in your last music video. So, I have to ask, is this narrative entirely fictional?

This video is definitely another chapter in the same universe as my last video. Hip Hop has so many unspoken rules and I’ve always felt that those limitations have hindered the art form at times. I try to play with those sensitive areas in my visuals. I can’t really confirm at this time what’s real and what isn’t but I can assure you that the truth will come out in the end of the narrative.

The single featured in this video came from your last album, Radical. Where did you record the songs for that collection?

I’ve been producing music for myself and other TVLiFE Entertainment artists at my home studio that I’ve coined “Jamarvin’s Room” in Tempe, AZ since 2012. The entire thing took thirteen months before it got wrapped in cellophane and I finally had the release party on my birthday last year.

You perform as Dadadoh but you’re also involved in other musical projects. Mind enlightening all who might not have the full Dadadoh-music-hustle picture just what you’re up to these days?

I wrote and recorded a song for the evangelistic rap group 20 Ft. Neon Jesus awhile back that should be on their next album. I just shot a concert film for Red Tank! that I’m really excited for the people to see. We’re in pre-production on the next two MC/DC projects. I engineered and played percussion on Andy Warpigs next two albums. I’m working on an EP with Indy Prince (who you can hear wailing like an old black lady on Andy’s “Dog Ate My Dope” single).

Ricky Smash and I just spent two months recording and releasing a new project called They Don’t Think It Be Like It Is But It Do by our band Exxxtra Crispy that I’m really excited about. I also DJ for this super cool femcee called Bert who’s ill! I put on a women’s event four times a year called Women Only that gives new female artists a platform to perform and connect. I started a podcast called “Before The Show” that is currently recording its third season and that will be released soon.

What’s next on your itinerary? You’ve already been in a feature film, directed your own music video, and put out some killer music. I want to know what else Dadadoh has on his bucket list?

I’ve been working on my stand up movie for awhile now and I think it’ll be done by the end of the year. I’m also working on booking a summer tour for 2018 where I want to get overseas and I plan to release my next album right before that tour.

I’m playing with the idea of re-recording some songs I’ve already released as a full band where I play all the instruments as well.

I’m mixing a cover I recorded that I’ll send to the When In AZ Vol. 2 compilation when it’s done.

We start production on the next Exxxtra Crispy album next week and I’m hyped on where we’re going to take that sound next.

I’m looking for more radio, television and movie placements in my future too. Hell, if I haven’t done it and it seems borderline impossible, then consider me all in.

 

5 Hawt HipHop Singles

by Carly Schorman
Senior Editor

2Reps

“Been Wild”

There’s a fun summertime feel on “Been Wild” that’s perfect for the over-25-crowd (uh, maybe over 30). You know, those of us who might have had our wild days but now we maybe just want to kickback and use all those bills we save on booze for tropical vacations. Of course, 2Reps throw enough bounce into “Been Wild” to keep the kids interested even if they haven’t crossed that “Still Wild” threshold quite yet.

Susspect

“Jelly”

At nineteen, Susspect might be a little green but you won’t be able to glean that from his new single, “Jelly”. This kid sounds pro. I mean, he’s got some serious lyrical prowess and a slick delivery. That’s a winning combo. But, right now, Susspect is doing the collegiate thing by day at Emerson so don’t start pressuring him to spit out singles faster than his schedule will permit. #StayInSchool

J. Reid Prime

“All Mine”

This slouchy single from J. Reid Prime brings a little chill to these increasingly hot days. “All Mine”, produced by Gage Green, features Sonny from Mars on the vocals. This is the first single Prime has released in a year so fans will be stoked to learn that this track is just a prelude to the artist’s forthcoming album, Braille Teeth. Roll around your city with J. Reid Prime and his single, “All Mine”.

Bad Poetry Club

“Victory Lap”

Bad Poetry Club throws out some mad energy into the mix of their new single, “Victory Lap”. BPC lays out fresh instrumentals on this single to support the wisely sparse lyrics. After all, with a beat like that, who wants to get too wordy. This is nu jazz, not your normal HipHop hit. Give “Victory Lap” by Bad Poetry Club a spin below…

Jaac

“Minutes”

Jaac recorded this track last year at the tender age of seventeen. On “Minutes”, Jaac proves you don’t always need to throw a lot down on the beat if you have the lyrical strength to carry your audience. Jaac does and you can hear that stripped-down style on “Minutes”. Let’s hope Jaac has more singles in the works this year.

7 Fresh Hiphop Videos

PHFAT x Mac Motel
“Keep You Safe”

Tok Sik
“Show Me the Money”

Phoenix
“Welcome to the Neighborhood”

Lij
“Absence”

Jamar
“Freedom”

Brilly Asher
“Toonami Flow”

F.A.M.E.
“Used To”

Must Be Funny: The Memory and Music of Space Alien Donald

space alien donald 02by Jason Kron
Contributing Writer

April 20 marks the anniversary of Space Alien Donald leaving our planet in 2015 at age 79.

He was many things: loner, scientist, writer, voracious reader, anarchist, vegetarian, freethinker. Having lived a nomadic life, he spent the last four years of his Earth time residing in Phoenix, and instantly became a celebrity amongst the community.

Not only was he well-known for being a genuine eccentric, but he was also a proud outcast before many subcultures were formed to give outcasts a home (hippies, punks, etc). He was a big fan of science fiction, and empathized with the intellectually advanced alien characters who tried to open the minds of Earth people and were punished as a result (such as in Slan, his favorite book).

As he explained in Ben Kitnick and Saxon Richardson’s short documentary Funny World, “I’m not saying I’m really from outer space, I’m saying I’m alienated.” For many others who have also felt alienated, he served as a guiding light.

Donald always tried to turn the spotlight away from himself and onto other artists he admired. He scoffed at the idea of being called a musician, though he was secretly an amazing pianist. He also didn’t think of himself as a wordsmith, though he was a published poet and authored at least two books (he threw most of his book copies in a dumpster during the 1990s).

Yet he started performing at age 74 and came to be known as “The World’s Oldest Gay Canadian Rapper” (a moniker thought up by Abe Gil from Treasure Mammal). The album Must Be Funny (a nod to the Prescott parody religion of the same name) was recorded by Jalipaz at Audioconfusion and released on Ryan Avery’s Related Records label seven months before Donald returned to the cosmos. Let us thank Mars that he decided to leave this documentation behind in the nick of time. The album is a perfect reflection of Donald: one-of-a-kind, fearlessly weird and effortlessly insightful.

Must Be Funny is not a quirky rap novelty album. I wouldn’t lump it in with any other genre either. The music is jarring and disconcerting, matching the varying lyrical shades of idiosyncrasy throughout. Donald’s one-take-or-bust vocal tracks show a laid-back cool that embodied him as an individual. He wasn’t trying, and that’s what made the album work. It’s comfortable and sincerely itself.

The title Must Be Funny sums up the album’s theme as well as summing up Donald’s worldview. Some of the sillier topics include felines from outer space (“Cats”), a hamster on wheels (“Skateboard”), and how cyborg fornication is only morally acceptable if the androids are physically attractive (“Ugly Robots Shouldn’t Have Sex”). These songs fit in with the more overtly philosophical tracks on the album because they all attack mindless seriousness. This lyric in “Funny World” (named after the Heaven-esque destination in the Must Be Funny religion) says it all: “Serious world is based on empty belief.” Donald believed in maintaining a sense of whimsy as an act of rebellion.

Similarly to Devo (one of the first things we bonded over), the Space Alien questioned the notion that humankind was evolving forward. Mixed in with the album’s zaniness are genuine pleas to improve the planet’s condition by thinking for yourself and putting the kibosh on bureaucracy and dogma. As he proclaimed in “Human Zoo”, “If you are dumb, if you have greed, on planet Earth you can succeed. Those who run this planet seem to be part of a foolish, unwise regime.” (Sound familiar?)

Though he had a rightfully pessimistic outlook on the human race, he also had faith in the ability of the alienated to fight the idiocy. In “Happy As Can Be”, he spoke for his extraterrestrial brethren who merely want peace for us all: “Space aliens are gentle. We didn’t come to invade. Space aliens are lovers too, caring as can be.” As has been the case with a lot of the best sci-fi, Donald used the analogy of the misunderstood Martian to highlight humankind’s fear of the other, and to emphasize the point that maybe the other shouldn’t be feared after all.

space alien donald 03
Photo by Ryan Avery

Seventy-nine years seems like a decent quantity for most lifelines, but Donald seemed especially youthful for any age group. He saw every Disney movie in theaters since the 1940s, introduced himself to every stranger as a space alien, wore costumes whenever he felt like it, and spent some of his last days in a hospital bed designing a spacesuit that could withstand temperatures on Mars. He jokingly told me many times that he had no intention of dying, that his brain would be transferred to a robot body and he would thereby be immortal.

Evoking a childlike wisdom, he observed the stress of the adult world and wondered why these grown-ups spent so much of their time upsetting themselves with pointless hooey. It’s not that children don’t understand, it’s that they haven’t been conditioned to self-destruct yet and can see the world more clearly than we can. Such was the case with Donald, who lived a full life but still seemed to have a lot more to do. But as he foreshadowed in the song “Hey Hey Hey”, “Space Alien Donald just shook his head, got back in his ship and away he fled.”

Must Be Funny is a testament to how much can be done with nothing more than imagination and honesty. Like Donald himself, the album somehow screams a message of “FUCK YOU” without being hateful. Its silliness is serious business. If you haven’t listened to it, please do so. If you have listened to it, please listen again. Donald was a magical being, and it’s incredibly important that he and his ideas be remembered through what he left behind. When I find myself succumbing to fear and conflict (which is far too often), I often return to this album so that he can guide me through these petty human emotions the way he used to in real life.

I hope that any listener takes from Must Be Funny what I took from seeing Donald perform for the first time. It was at the 2010 Real Coachella festival at The Trunk Space, the second time I had ever met him (the first time was also at The Trunk Space). As I watched this being be so unbelievably himself, and saw how little of a fuck he gave about what anyone thought of him, I thought to myself, “If he has the guts to do this, any of us can do anything.”

~

Read our original review of Must Be Funny by Space Alien Donald here.

Radio Phoenix Podcast: Blaze Rock

blaze rock 01Blaze Rock joined us at the Radio Phoenix Studios for our latest episode of The YabYum Hour. We talked a lot of AZ HipHop, got schooled on some cats we never heard of, and definitely head-bobbed the whole time. As always, our guest brought some great tracks down and the complete playlist can be found below. Click on the artist name for more info.

Make sure to tune in every 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month at 7 PM for each live episode of The YabYum Hour, only on radiophoenix.org.

Complete Playlist:

Blaze Rock “Defy Gravity”

BP Mercenaries “Boogeyman”

HYPR BST “Level Up”

ROKNOWLEDGE “Time Is Like A Promise”

Blaze Rock “Fearless”

Black One “Status Quo”

Blaze Rock “Failproof”

Blind Man ft. Purita “Gladiator Pen”

Cross Platform “Loved By You”

Mega Ran “Kickin’ In Doors”

SPAN PHLY “Joy”

_

Recorded live on March 15, 2017